I was in for a surprise recently when I found a very small parcel (perhaps 3×2 inches) in my mailbox. The sending adress carried a name that was familiar to me in Montana. And when I opened up this very light parcel I was really touched and moved by Linda Helding’s attention: she had sent me four small tie and lapel pins, little gold and silver looking planes: P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning, two great combat aircraft used by the USA Air Force during WW 2, and another, a postwar one, which I could not identify properly.
These pins belonged to Linda’s father, Arnold Helding, a P-38 pilot who served in Europe, and now I therefore feel connected with him. That’s another connexion with a WW2 American pilot who was indirectly involved in an incident that took place in 1944 in France. In June that year, LeRoy Lutz, who was from Nebraska, got killed in the crash of the plane he was flying, Arnold Helding’s Lucky Lady.
I wrote here about that accident which incited me to write an aviation novel, The Legend of Little Eagle. To my amazement, some time after this book was published, both Linda Helding and Jerry Lutz, LeRoy’s nephew, got in touch (connected) with me. We have become friends on Facebook and chat now and then.
The story of my hero John Philip Garreau has nothing to do with the one of LeRoy Lutz, aside from the fact that they both showed a great altruism and spirit of sacrifice. Which, in Johnny Garreau’s action, saved the life of a whole French family, among them a little girl, the mother of Hélène Marchal, my narrator in the book. Hélène would not have been born had Johnny not acted heroïcally.
In my story, Hélène goes to Montana to research the books she wants to write on First Lieutenant Johnny Gareau. And she meets there with a close friend of his, an old man I purposedly named Harold Holding. Holding gives her his war logbook, and she’s able to quote him to piece together Johnny’s life and actions. One of his last entries is dated in the early days of August, 1944: « Johnny crashed in Burgundy with my Lucky Lady. Of all the rotten… Don’t know what to say. I’m devastated. »
I had not worn a tie for many years, but after receiving Linda’s parcel, I felt compelled to. At least for this picture to show her how grateful I am for her attention.
Arnold Helding returned unscathed from his service in Europe in the 479th Fighter Group and enjoyed a long life in Montana, where he died at age 92 in 2007. I’ve always loved this picture of him and his plane.
The Legend of Little Eagle
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How the story started and how it connected people, in fiction and in real life.